"It was the most exciting thing in my life", says the Entrepreneur. He recalls how the meeting went: "I didn't close the sale with him until I showed him a map of Latin America without any borders. He said, 'Oh, that's good.'" Rockefeller and the Fund became Investors in StarMedia, which moved its headquarters from Connecticut to the city and quickly grew to more than 700 employees worldwide. Espuelas tells this story at a reception that New York's corporate elite was throwing for Rockefeller's 86th birthday. He introduces Rockefeller as his "shareholder, partner, and inspiration."
Seeking to survive at a time when Uruguay experienced acute political and economic crisis, Espuelas and his mother immigrated to the United States in 1976 with only $100. After a series of factory jobs making everything from dresses to ice cream sandwiches, his mother found work as a housekeeper in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Espuelas attended Greenwich High School, graduating in 1984. At Greenwich High, Espuelas was the President of the Debate Team, the Connecticut State Champion debater in 1982, and the Chairman of the Political Action Club. Espuelas hosted the local Public-access television cable TV show "The Bottom Line with Fernando Espuelas", interviewing Greenwich personalities.
In 1988, Espuelas was hired as an assistant account executive by Wunderman Worldwide, a division of the Young & Rubicam advertising agency. While at Wunderman, Espuelas worked on the American Express, General Foods Gevalia and Weight Watchers accounts. After a year at Wunderman, he became an account executive at Interpublic Group of Companies's Lowe & Partners to work on the agency's Citibank Visa account.
In 1991, Espuelas returned to South America to work at Ogilvy & Mather's Argentine operations. In Argentina, Espuelas was the founding Managing Director of Ogilvy & Mather Direct. Starting with one account, Espuelas led the company to be O&M Argentina's single largest source of profit by the second year of operations. After two months in Argentina, Espuelas was additionally named head of the company's Unilever account, responsible for a portfolio of global brands such as Dove and Ponds. The Unilever Business was one of the most important accounts for O&M in Argentina and across its worldwide network. At the end of 1991, Espuelas was elected to the Board of Directors of Ogilvy & Mather Argentina, at the age of 25.
In 1994 AT&T recruited Espuelas to lead the roll-out of the AT&T brand throughout Latin America. Within a year, he was promoted to Managing Director of Marketing Communications for the Latin American and Caribbean region, becoming one of the youngest executives of that rank at the company. While at AT&T, Espuelas conceived and launched AT&T Hola (in Spanish) and AT&T Ola (in Portuguese), the company's first online Service. A combination of news feeds from Reuters, interactive forums, online games and the first search engine that searched in Spanish and Portuguese, AT&T Hola/Ola was positively received by both the media and consumers across Latin America.
As Starmedia's Chairman and CEO, collaborating with co-founder and Starmedia President Jack Chen, Espuelas created the first Internet media company for Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking audiences worldwide. Using a combination of their 12 credit cards, family savings, and loans from friends, the pair managed to piece together the first $100,000 used to launch the Latin portal in September 1996.
After a frustrating year and a half of approaching venture capitalists to invest in his vision, only to have them uniformly refuse, many avowing that Latins "did not like technology" and would never use the Internet, the company went on to raise $2.5 million in 1997.
On May 25, 1999, StarMedia completed the first public offering on Nasdaq for a Latin Internet company, selling 7 million shares at $15. The company went on to raise hundreds of millions more capital over the next two years. By 2000, at age 34, Espuelas was acknowledged as one of the main players in Silicon Alley and the Latino Internet industry. Uruguay's leading newspaper, El País, dubbed him "The Emperor of the Internet" on its front page.
In February 2000, Starmedia created Latin America's first free, ad-supported regional internet Service provider with a $200 million investment from CMGI Inc., Flatiron Partners, Chase Capital Partners and 1stUp.com.
On August 5, 2001, after a disagreement with the Board regarding the strategic direction of the company, Espuelas resigned as CEO of StarMedia but agreed to stay on as Chairman until November 15, 2001 to effect an orderly management transition. At that time, he was replaced by Susan Segal as head of the company; Segal was a venture capitalist, representing Chase Manhattan Bank's Chase Capital Partners, which had given Starmedia its first round of institutional financing in 1997. Segal then led the company's new strategy to divest itself of its market leading portal assets, including the StarMedia brand and network of websites, and focus the company on its mobile unit, StarMedia Mobile. The resulting new company, Cyclelogic, was led by Segal until it filed for bankruptcy in 2003.
As part of Segal's new strategy, in July 2002, StarMedia was sold for $8 million to EresMas, a Spanish ISP. EresMas was then sold to a unit of France Telecom, Internet subsidiary Wanadoo, 10 days later for $255 million euros. EresMas' new leadership of the Latin Internet (through the purchase of StarMedia the previous week) was cited by France Telecom as the reason for the acquisition.
In the Hispanic Business article "The Kings of Comebacks", Espuelas said, "...we [at StarMedia] wanted to redefine history - and I think that... is what happened", Mr. Espuelas writes in his 2004 book Life in Action. "The StarMedia idea of Pan Latin Americanism, an idea with deep historical roots, was a profound turning point for Latinos across the world." But in the spring of 2000, StarMedia suffered what the book calls "the near-complete collapse of the Internet economy." By his own calculation, Mr. Espuelas' StarMedia holdings at one point had a value of nearly $500 million, but he never sold a single share. "I lived a full cycle", he tells Hispanic Business. "It was the best Business and personal experience I could have had at this point in my life. "
Voy also released the award winning documentary, Favela Rising through its Voy Pictures unit. The film received widespread critical acclaim. Espuelas said at the time of the release, "Favela Rising encapsulates the Voy philosophy of optimism and self-empowerment. The film's message of hope transforms people, motivates and inspires us to action." Telling the true story of one man's struggle against violence and racism to start a social movement for peace, Favela Rising won more than 35 major international awards and was short listed for an Academy Award nomination. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2005 and was seen around the world through the film festival circuit. In 2006 it opened in theaters across the U.S. and Brazil and later made its U.S. television debut on HBO/Cinemax.
In company announcements made in 2006, StarMedia, now part of France Telecom's Orange subsidiary, the company claimed to be the global leader in Spanish language Internet services. In 2006, the company stated, Starmedia was serving over 22 million unique users a month and continued to expand by launching new services, such as Finance and entertainment channels, and opening offices across Latin America.
Fernando Espuelas created, hosts and is the managing Editor of his eponymously named radio talk show on Univision America Network. Launched in Los Angeles in July 2008, with Univision Radio, The Fernando Espuelas Show is now broadcast nationally on the Univision America Network, streams on the Internet and mobile devices through Univision Radio apps.
Espuelas was the co-founder and Chairman of the StarMedia Foundation which, in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank and Microsoft, built Technology training schools in poor neighborhoods in Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay. Espuelas served on the Board of Directors of the Educational Broadcasting Corporation, operators of PBS' New York flagship television station Thirteen (WNET) and sister station WLIW, as well as on the Board of Trustees of Connecticut College. In 2009, Espuelas became a spokesman for the Los Angeles Parent's Union, also known as Parent Revolution, a non-profit group that seeks to reform public education across the United States. In 2010, Espuelas was elected to the Board of Directors of Parent Revolution.
Starmedia's success served as an important catalyst in the development of the Latin Internet market by encouraging both entrepreneurs and financiers to back the development of the sector. According to ComputerWorld, "StarMedia's success is credited with igniting the vibrant enthusiasm that the Latin America Internet market currently enjoys, and which has led a number of companies to follow in StarMedia's footsteps, including big guns like Spain's Telefonica SA, America Online Inc. (AOL), Yahoo, Lycos, Brazil's UOL Inc. and Microsoft Corp., as well as cocky startups like Patagon.com International Ltd., Zona Financiera Inc. and Yupi Internet Inc." As of 2011, there were an estimated 212+ million Internet users in Latin America.
Also in 2012, The Fernando Espuelas Show was re-launched as part of the new talk-radio Univision America Network.
Myriad companies were created and funded, telecommunications companies made significant Investments in infrastructure to meet the demand, and governments and other key sectors of the society, specifically the news media, adopted Web tools to modernize. Espuelas sought to "...redefine history – and I think that, in fact, is what happened...The StarMedia idea of Pan Latin Americanism, an idea with deep historical roots, was a profound turning point for Latinos across the world."
Espuelas created a communications culture to connect StarMedia's 18 offices in 12 countries. "[Espuelas]... will set a goal at one meeting, and by the time the next one rolls around, we've made tremendous progress.... Each meeting has a clear goal—to deliver quarterly results, to announce a major initiative or partnership, to clarify our strategic vision. Whenever possible, Fernando and other executives make their comments trilingually. That sometimes generates good-natured teasing about accents, but our employees really appreciate the effort. To make certain that nothing is lost in the translations, someone from each office recaps the entire announcement in that country's native tongue. Then we follow up with an online chat, during which the management team fields questions from employees", said Gally Bar-on, chief of staff, StarMedia Network Inc. and President, StarMedia Foundation.
CNN filmed a documentary on Espuelas’ life that was broadcast across the world. The media referred to Espuelas as "The Hispanic Bill Gates" and the "Simón Bolívar of the Internet", terms that would be often recapitulated in thousands of articles and interviews referencing Starmedia.